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“Here's to history, prisons, bad men and women, ghosts, and more!”

Wyoming Frontier Prison
Ranked #1 of 9 things to do in Rawlins
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: 1-2 hours
Owner description: The eighty year history of Wyoming’s first state penitentiary, now known as the Wyoming Frontier Prison, is as colorful and elaborate as the plot of a classic western movie. The cornerstone of the prison was laid in 1888, but due to funding issues and Wyoming’s notorious weather, the doors wouldn’t open for thirteen years. In December of 1901, the prison opened and consisted of 104 cells (Cell Block A), no electricity or running water, and very inadequate heating. Throughout the prison’s operation, approximately 13,500 people were incarcerated, including eleven women. Overcrowding was an almost constant concern, and the first of several additions to the penitentiary was completed in 1904, adding 32 cells to the west end of the original cell block (Cell Block A). Women were housed in the prison until 1909, until the last woman was transferred to Colorado. The addition of the second cell block (Cell Block B) in 1950 temporarily relieved the overcrowding, and also included solitary confinement cells, a much more efficient heating system, and hot running water which wouldn’t be installed in the original cell block for another twenty-eight years. A maximum security addition (Cell Block C) was completed in 1966, but the addition only included thirty-six cells and was reserved for serious discipline cases. The prison was equipped with several different means of disciplining inmates throughout its operation, including a dungeon, several variations of solitary confinement and a “punishment pole” to which men were handcuffed and whipped with rubber hoses. The prison also used different execution methods.. The first two executions were carried out using the “traveling” Julien Gallows which were used to hang Tom Horn in Cheyenne in 1903. In 1916, the penitentiary completed the addition of a “death house” which consisted of six cells to house inmates on death row, and a unique indoor version of the Julien Gallows. The building also housed the gas chamber when it was chosen to replace hanging as Wyoming’s execution method of choice in 1936. Ultimately 14 death sentences were carried out; nine men were hanged, and five were executed in the gas chamber by the use of hydrocyanic acid gas. The Wyoming Frontier Prison is a remnant of the grizzly past of the old west, but not every aspect of prison life was so off-putting. Over the 80-year operation, the prison produced goods to meet demands of four major industries. From 1901 through 1917 the prison had a broom factory, but inmates burned it down during a riot. The factory was rebuilt and operated as a shirt factory which brought in twice the revenue to the state. In 1934, a federal law was passed to prohibit the sale and transportation of prison manufactured goods from one state to another, which resulted in the loss of significant revenue when the factory closed. In 1935, the factory began operating as a woolen mill which won the “Navy E” in 1942 for the superior quality blankets produced by the prison for the military during World War II. In 1949 the prison changed production one last time, producing license plates until the penitentiary closed in 1981. After serving the state for eighty years, the prison closed its doors, and sat abandoned until 1987 when a low budget movie titled “Prison” was filmed on location. The movie was one of Viggo Mortensen’s first and featured several other well known actors. Significant damage was done to the prison grounds during filming because it had yet to be considered a historic site. In 1988, a joint powers board assumed ownership of the penitentiary, dubbed it The Wyoming Frontier Prison, and established it as a museum. The Wyoming Frontier Prison has since been listed on The National Registry of Historic Places, and offers tours to approximately 15,000 visitors annually.
Reviewed 16 January 2012

Go during the day and its ok, you'll see everything from the cells the warden allowed the prisoners to paint black so they can't be seen even in the day.. to the paintings in the dining room that were painted so eyes will follow you everywhere you go in the room (hidden meaning for that particular painting was, "everywhere you go the guards are always watching) You'll see the gas chamber (YOU CAN SIT IN IT and close the door!) Also the gallows. You'll see A LOT and take your cameras! You'll see more! They have "haunted tours" by appointment only and they are at night. Must have 10 or more in your group and its $7 per person for the haunted tours. I haven't been brave enough to do that........yet!

Thank TSR01
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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199 - 203 of 219 reviews

Reviewed 16 January 2012

I've always been into creepy stuff, and with the prison a bit chilly, and with it's eerie past, this was a great place to visit. The price is a little bit expensive, but fine if you only go every now and then. You get a lot of information about the prison. You may get goosebumps here and there, which is always great as long as you don't scare too easily, but it's nothing like the Queen Mary. I have been to the Rawlins Pen twice now and would certainly go again.

1  Thank h2o_mermaid
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 6 January 2012

Yes the prison is cold but if you think about it, it makes sense. The construction of the Prison started in the late 1800's so no, there of course will not be heat and it is a non-profit organization so they can't aford to heat all of it all of the time. Also we have been there multiple times and every tour guide is different, but they are all great. Everyone just has different information they tell and different stories too but if you want it all, read the stuff in the museums. Halloween tours are just that, Halloween tours. They are not ment to be informative tours but entertainment. I love this place and I will continue going. ps if you have young children and dont want them to hear gory details, inform the tourguide so they know.

1  Thank Mard O
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 21 October 2011

We only did the simple musuems and decide to leave as the day was cold and raining and we were told that the tour is outside. Look like a cool place, the musems were neat. There is no charge for what we did, but there is for the tour.

1  Thank jpb56
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 30 September 2011

We made sure to stop at the prison on our way into Colorado. Definitely a cool place to visit. We ended up getting there an hour before the last tour started, so we had a chance to read all of the history they have in the room adjacent to the gift shop. Lots of good reading. We read about the escape in 1912, but the tour did not mention this part at all. I think it should be added because it was very interesting. Lots of old artifacts from the prison in this room as well.

The tour itself was pretty good, but the tour guide could have been a little looser. It was just the two of us on the tour, but it was still very formal and memorized. However, it was a very informative tour and we got to see everything. The gas chamber is very cool and pictures can be taken inside. It was a lot of walking for those that aren't able to walk very far. Some of the stories are very descriptive so it might not be the best place for young children. If they censor these stories , it wouldn't be as interesting.

Overall the tour was really neat just a little too pricey. But for those of us that will probably not ever have the chance to go back, it was worth the cost.

1  Thank Rudytennis
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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